Oklahoma Pushes Long Range Plan for Water Conservation

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I was born in Oklahoma and have spent most my life here. I'm proud to call it home. However, I'm sad to say the state is not exactly known for its environmental initiatives. Oil is still King here and for many in our state leadership, global warming is nothing but a liberal plot to strangle business.

So, I was pleasantly surprised in late May when Governor Mary Fallin signed into law the Water for 2060 Act, which some consider to be the most comprehensive, ambitious statewide water conservation measure in the United States.

The bill, House Bill 3055, establishes a statewide goal of consuming no more fresh water in 2060 than is consumed currently in the state. The bill also creates an advisory council that will develop a strategy for achieving the statewide goal, as well as recommendations on more efficient use of existing water supplies, identification of new water supplies and more efficient infrastructure.

Water has been a focus in Oklahoma recently, in part because of last year's brutal heat and drought. According to a recent report from the National Climatic Data Center, in 2011, Oklahoma had the hottest summer ever recorded by a U.S. state. July 2011 was also the hottest month ever recorded by a state.

The Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan, updated earlier this year, predicted that localized shortages and groundwater depletions could become more common in the next 50 years, primarily in the western portions of the state. The southeastern corner of the state is actually water rich. In fact, the state is embroiled in a legal battle with Texas over Oklahoma's refusal to sell water to feed the growing populations of Dallas and northern Texas.

Oklahoma is also battling the Choctaw and the Chickasaw tribes over a plan to pipe water from southeastern Oklahoma to serve the Oklahoma City area. The water would be drawn from a lake in historic tribal territory and the tribes insist rights to the water were deeded to them in treaties dating back to 1830.

HB 3055 does not address water rights or permits to use water. Instead, it encourages voluntary practices to use water more efficiently and creatively. It places the focus on preserving fresh water through conservation while also expanding the use of alternative sources such as wastewater, brackish water, and other non-potable supplies, to meet the needs of the public, business and agriculture.

The measure sets out goals for the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, including increasing public water conservation awareness through education and public information campaigns. The board can also sponsor pilot projects that might focus on such topics as Xeriscape gardens, efficiency, recycling and reuse of water, and information campaigns on capturing and using rainwater and gray water.

Holding the line on water usage is a lofty goal and very achievable, in my humble opinion. I won't be around to see how things turn out in 2060, but I suspect my grandchildren and their children will be.

And we can only hope it's no hotter in 2060 than it was last summer here in Oklahoma!

James Laughlin, Editor

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